Tareq Salahi, Virginia governor and erstwhile TV star. Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
Tareq Dirgham Salahi (born May 26, 1969, in Washington, D.C.) is an American politician, former reality TV star, polo champion and wine tour operator who has been the 72nd Governor of Virginia since Jan. 11, 2014.
Early Life and Education
Like most young American boys, Tareq spent much of his life on a horse, show jumping by age 5 and later on the polo fields, competing on the U.S. National Team. Yes, the U.S. has a national polo team. He earned a bachelor's degree in oenology (the study of wine and winemaking) from the University of California, Davis in 1994, which we double checked and found, incredibly, is a real thing.
Tareq married Michaele Holt in 2003. Their wedding reception for more than 1,800 guests was held at the family vineyard in a 36,000-sq.-foot tent. The meal was prepared by 46 chefs, and the festivities concluded with an 8-foot-tall wedding cake and a 30-minute fireworks display, which was said to symbolize the explosive light of love that cannot be contained, the booming of the human heart when filled with infinite and eternal unconditional love.
The couple divorced in September 2011.
Tareq Salahi was appointed to the Virginia Wine Board, the Virginia Wine Tourism Office and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, appointments that former governors Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sorely wish they could take back.
Tareq and Michaele Salahi came to prominence in November 2009 when the couple attended a White House state dinner without an invitation. The couple were preparing for a high-profile stint on the reality television program The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C. The Internet was flooded with photos of the couple striding boldly into the White House, Tareq in an unflattering double-breasted tuxedo and Michaele in a what-was-she-thinking floor-length muumuu. The couple also founded a charity, Journey for the Cure, about which the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs issued a consumer warning because of the unregistered charity's misleading statements regarding use of funds. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed a lawsuit against Journey for the Cure, and in April 2012 against Salahi's wine tour company for violations against the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
Personal scandal followed in 2011 when Michaele Salahi went missing for several days. Tareq claimed she was kidnapped. As the world held its breath, it was learned that she had run away with rock guitarist Neal Schon of the chart-topping band Journey, famous for the hit "Don't Stop Believin'."
Governor of Virginia
Citing his annoyance at Attorney General Cuccinelli for filing frivolous lawsuits against small family businesses that purportedly rip people off, Tareq Salahi announced his candidacy for governor of Virginia in April 2012. He felt that a reasonable, moderate Republican should challenge Cuccinelli for the nomination. "I woke up thinking, ‘Someone should do this.' And I thought, ‘Wait a minute! I'm someone!' "
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling was also someone, but it is possible Salahi did not realize this.
Salahi secured the nomination after Cuccinelli suffered a mental breakdown in early 2013 at a fundraising event at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Too many nipples! Too many nipples!" Cuccinelli was heard yelling just before he was whisked away. Voters apparently forgot about Bolling, and Salahi easily won the nomination. On Nov. 5, 2013, Salahi sailed to a landslide victory over the supremely unlikable Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe.
In a plot twist worthy of the reality TV world, Salahi's ex-wife and her guitarist boyfriend crashed the inaugural ball. Michaele's association with Schon did not last, however, and she attempted a reconciliation with the governor but was devastated to learn that Salahi had begun a relationship with German '80s rock star Nena, whose international hit, "99 Luftballons," reached #2 on the U.S. charts in March 1984.